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Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

Male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker
Male: Black with white barring above, white underparts and red crown.

Female: Like male but whitish crown.

The Lesser Spotted Woodpecker is Europe's smallest woodpecker and is about the same size as a Greenfinch. It is a pied woodpecker like the Great Spotted Woodpecker but lacks the large white wing patches.

The head is black and white: black nape and white forehead, cheeks and throat. The back, wings and tail are black, except for the white bars. The underparts are whitish-buff with darker streaks. The bill is black, the legs are grey-green and the eye is a reddish-brown.

The sexes are similar except that the male has a red crown with a black border and the female a whitish crown. Juveniles have some red on the crown and have browner, streaked underparts.

As with other woodpeckers, the stiff tail feathers are used as a prop when it is clinging to a tree, and its toes are specially arranged with two pointing forwards and two backwards.

The best time to try and see Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers is in late winter and early spring (January to April) when the trees are bare and the woodpeckers are becoming territorial.


Scientific Name Dendrocopos minor
Length 15 cm  (6")
Wing Span 26 cm  (10")
Weight 18-21 g  (¾ oz)
Breeding Pairs 2700
Present All Year
Status Red

Distribution map - when and where you are most likely to see the species.


The male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker both drums its bill and calls like the Greater Spotted Woodpecker, but there is a difference in that the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker:

  • Drums more quietly and rapidly, and does not peter out at the end.
  • Calls more quietly and for longer.

The call is a weak but shrill "pee-pee-pee-pee", which may be confused with the Kestrel's call.

The "kick" alarm call is similar to that of the Greater Spotted Woodpecker, but weaker and more hissed.


© Jean Roché,

© Jean Roché,


Woodpeckers probe tree trunks for insects and larvae, but also feed on nuts and berries (in the winter). If you see a pied woodpecker among thin, outer branches of a tree it is probably a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker.

Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers are not common garden birds, preferring ancient deciduous woodlands and river valleys instead, but they have been recorded at bird tables, feeding on sunflower seeds and suet.


The nest is a hole in a tree and is excavated by both birds.

The eggs are white, smooth and glossy, and about 18 mm by 14 mm. The male and female take turns incubating the eggs, and both adults feed the young.

Breeding Starts Clutches Eggs Incubation (days) Fledge (days)
late April 1 3-8 11-12 18-30


Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers are residents and rarely move far from their nesting sites, except in the autumn and winter to search for food.


The population of Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers has declined seriously and so they have been placed on the Red List. This decline may be caused by changes in how our forests are managed (in particular, the removal of rotting trees) and with the loss of so many elms to Dutch Elm Disease, or a result of increased competition with other species.